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Volume 50 • Number 4

October 2013


Moral Intuitionism Defeated?

by Nathan Ballantyne and Joshua C. Thurow

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong has developed and progressively refined an argument against moral intuitionism—the view on which some moral beliefs enjoy non-inferential justification. He has stated his argument in a few different forms, but the basic idea is straightforward. To start with, Sinnott-Armstrong highlights facts relevant to the truth of moral beliefs: such beliefs are sometimes biased, influenced by various irrelevant factors, and often subject to disagreement. Given these facts, Sinnott-Armstrong infers that many moral beliefs are false. What then shall we think of our own moral beliefs? Either we have reason to think some of our moral beliefs are reliably formed or we have no such reason. If the latter, our moral beliefs are unjustified. If we have reason to think some moral beliefs are reliably formed, then those beliefs are not non-inferentially justified, because then we’ll have reason to accept something—namely, that they are reliably formed—that entails or supports those beliefs. But then, either way, our moral beliefs are not non-inferentially justified, and so moral intuitionism is false. This paper takes issue with Sinnott-Armstrong’s interesting and widely discussed argument, which we here call the Empirical Defeat Argument (EDA). According to us, the EDA does not defeat moral intuitionism. In section 1, we will set out the argument, briefly reviewing the rationale Sinnott-Armstrong offers for the premises. Then, in section 2, we identify a critical but dubious epistemological assumption concerning the nature of defeat that undergirds the argument. Finally, in section 3, we will defend our challenge to the EDA by answering two objections.

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ISSN: 2152-1123